Pushmo Review

By Shawn Collier on January 7, 2012

With the recent release of Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 on Nintendo's newest handheld, one could definitely say that the Nintendo 3DS has finally hit its stride. Add to that the recent firmware update which brought upgrades to the friends list and video recording and everything appears to be coming together for the veteran hardware and software maker. One last piece of the puzzle has still remained however, the downloadable-driven Nintendo eShop service. Those who followed the Nintendo DSi's DSiWare and the Nintendo Wii's Wii Shop Channel know that the publisher hasn't had the most innovative or the most exciting releases on either of those two services. That all changes with the release of Pushmo (Pullbox in Europe), the first must-have title for the Nintendo eShop.

Pushmo's developer is none other than Nintendo's own Intelligent Systems. The studio has worked on various Nintendo properties such as the Advanced Wars, Fire Emblem, Paper Mario and WarioWare series. In a sharp contrast to their prior works like Fire Emblem, Pushmo has the player take the role of Mallo, a cheery rotund youth that wears only a sumo sash. His goal is to rescue the various children playing in Pushmo Park that have been trapped inside its various puzzles after a mischievous youth reset them all whilst the children were playing on them. Each pushmo puzzle is made up of a set of blocks which differ in color and size. These can be pushed and pulled to let Mallo reach the top and save the child trapped inside.

Each level starts with all of the blocks flattened against the background. Mallo can pull them out towards him a maximum of three times. While this sounds pretty easy, the difficulty ramps up considerably as the game throws in new gameplay aspects such as alternate ways of adjusting blocks, switches and pipes. The first aspect allows you to push and pull blocks from the side which becomes important when a fully pushed-out block needs to be brought back in to progress farther in the stage. Switches allow you to push out every block of that color to its farthest level forward. Pipes allow you to transport Mallo from one pipe entrance to another as long as both entrances aren't obscured by another block.

Later levels, especially the three-star ones, combine each of these gameplay mechanics to create some challenging puzzles. A number of helpful reset mechanisms are in place if you get stuck. By pressing the R shoulder button players can view the pushmo from the front instead of the normal isometric perspective. Using the circle pad and the L button players can move and zoom into other areas. It's an exceptionally useful mechanic for the larger puzzles that can tower over a dozen stories. By pressing the L button players can rewind time and reverse their previous actions.Pushmo also has a handy reset switch at the beginning of the stage which resets all of the blocks to their original position. But if you get truly stuck the game allows you to skip any stage and head off to the next one. All in all, in typical Nintendo fashion Pushmo allows veteran puzzlers to feel like they aren't having their hand held, while at the same time letting newcomers feel welcome without getting frustrated as they learn the ropes.

With over 250 puzzles the main story mode will test even the most veteran puzzler's prowess, but at some point one is bound to finish all of them --- this is where Pushmo's "Pushmo Studio" mode comes into play. After completing the first stage of tutorial levels this mode opens up and allows players to make their own pushmo. As one would surmise after seeing screenshots of the game, Pushmo's block system really works well in creating 8 and 16-bit sprites, which even Nintendo did themselves with a number of Mario-based sprites found in the game's own built-in puzzles. And unlike other editors such as the one found in Mario Kart or Animal Crossing, Pushmo's editor is flexible enough to mix preset colors to create various values and hues. Completing the more advanced stages opens up new items such as the switches and pipes, so there's a reason to keep playing the main story mode after initially unlocking the studio.

Of course, once you create your own custom level you'll want to share it with your friends. While the game doesn't support the handheld's native StreetPass or SpotPass features it does allow you to create a custom QR code to share with friends in lieu of the online sharing features we saw in prior online-enabled Nintendo DS and DSiWare titles the past. While some might object to this approach and bemoan at the lack of local automatic sharing options it's not a huge detraction from the overall feature.

It's clear that Pushmo was developed solely for Nintendo's 3D-enabled handheld. Pushmo really benefits from the effect as telling the position of each block and where objects such as the pipes are located is much easier thanks to the added depth perception. Pushmo's Crayola-like approach with its simple shapes and objects works alongside the 3D effect and doesn't suffer any ghosting. The soundtrack isn't mind blowing, but it is fitting of the game's art direction.

Final Thoughts

It's taken a while for the Nintendo 3DS to hit its stride and it's been even longer for the Nintendo eShop, but with Pushmo Nintendo has finally turned things around. It's an enjoyable puzzle game with plenty of depth. Anyone who owns a Nintendo 3DS and has a wireless connection should head online and download this title. Pushmo is easily the best eShop title so far and is by far one of the best downloadable games Nintendo's released to date. If you enjoy puzzles at all, Pushmo is a no-brainer.

One of Nintendo's best downloadable titles to date.
Simple, but effective puzzle mechanics.
Makes great use of the 3D.
Sharing options are very limited.
Soundtrack isn't mind blowing.
Some might find it a little too tempting to skip levels if they're stuck.
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